Several final club leaders submitted largely non-committal responses to administrators Friday on whether they plan to adopt gender-neutral membership policies, citing a lack of clear answers to questions they had posed.
In late March, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana requested at a meeting with undergraduate leaders of Harvard’s unaffiliated single-gender social clubs that they inform him by April 15 whether or not they planned to go co-ed. The deadline carried no clear consequences for non-compliance.
Of the groups that met with Khurana at two meetings over the past month, representatives from five said that their organization had not given Khurana a definitive answer on whether they would change their membership policies. All five said they had not heard of any other single-gender club informing Khurana of such a policy change.
College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the record on whether any clubs had announced an intention to go gender neutral. Over the past year, Khurana has consistently declined to comment specifically on his discussions with final clubs, citing their confidential nature.
Multiple clubs, among them the all-male Fly Club, told Khurana that they needed more information from the administration in order to make a decision. Fly graduate president Richard T. Porteus Jr. ’78 informed Khurana of the Fly's stance by way of a letter, a copy of which he sent to The Crimson.
“I had hoped that our written request to you for specific information we consider essential to a proper decision would have given the Fly the opportunity to discuss the matter at hand in more depth before April 15th,” wrote Porteus, referencing a list of four yes-or-no questions he sent to Khurana in advance of another meeting last week between College administrators and final club leaders.
In that list, Porteus had asked if Khurana would recommend banning undergraduate membership in final clubs, whether such a ban would apply to female clubs and Greek organizations, and whether Khurana would “recommend expulsion” for undergraduates who might violate a potential final club ban. According to Porteus and others present at the meeting, Khurana gave no clear answers to these questions.
“Having received no response from you, it is the opinion of our executive committee that the current university administration has given us insufficient information to discuss the issue you raise with the degree of care such a decision requires,” Porteus continued in his letter.
The deadline from Khurana came near the end of a tumultuous academic year for Harvard’s final clubs, which for decades had enjoyed virtually unfettered independence from the College. Since he began his tenure in 2014, Khurana has made the clubs a focus of his deanship, publicly criticizing them and exhorting them to reconsider their single-gender policies. In the fall, the traditionally all-male Spee and Fox clubs accepted women into their ranks, with Fox club undergraduates writing that “Harvard has forced our hand,” in a letter explaining their decision.
This semester, the clubs were the subject of intense criticism from a University-wide task force report that cited both their perceived exclusivity and survey figures indicating a high prevalence of “non-consensual sexual contact” as evidence of “a culture often inimical to Harvard’s mission.”
Recently, though, certain clubs have publicly fired back at administrators. Charlie M. Storey ’82, at the time the Porcellian Club’s graduate board president, said his club was being “being used as a scapegoat for the sexual assault problem at Harvard despite its policies to help avoid the potential for sexual assault.” Storey has since apologized for his comments and resigned from his role as graduate board president.
After the meeting last week, in which Khurana suggested that final club members could be banned from holding leadership positions in recognized organizations and winning fellowships, Porteus called Khurana’s proposed sanction a “change from liberal education to illiberal education” in an interview with the Washington Post.
Khurana will present University President Drew G. Faust with a plan to address Harvard’s sexual assault prevention report by the end of the academic year.
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.
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